I actually love New Years resolutions.

But I think the most fun part is looking at resolutions for years past. It keeps me honest. Counterintuitively, I often discover I was aiming too low. Here are my resolutions from two years ago:

1) Stop mentally over-committing at my job.

2) Figure out, hypothetically, how I could be bi-coastal starting tomorrow if I needed to.

3) More mundane: break tasks into whole days. E.g. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday I’m only required to do stuff for my job. Wednesday and Friday, I’m only required to do things for my business.

4) Increase my earning power so as to pass the “minimum happiness threshold” – where money is not a concern – beyond which more money has diminishing effects on happiness.

5) Get seriously better at Mandarin. I don’t want to go through another Taiwan trip where I’m speaking pidgin. I don’t have to master it, but the next trip I want to see some serious improvement in my vocab and ability to read. It will make me feel better.

Several seem comically easy in retrospect: Stop over-committing at my job? Figure out how I could be bi-coastal? Break tasks into whole days? Those all read like journal entries for Monday morning. Things I could wrap up in 10 minutes. Gee – open the calendar and block out some stuff? Think I probably need a whole year for that. Open Airbnb and see how much I could rent my place in New York for and what the going rates are in LA and San Francisco? I might need till November.

Only 4 was a reasonable “push goal”, and it did indeed take me about a year to accomplish.

5? Let’s not talk about 5.

So what can I learn about setting goals from the way these turned out?

Well, at the risk of restating a cliche, Think Big. Since I made the 2014 list I’ve read Gary Keller’s The One Thing, which is sort of the modern bible for goal setting. But I construe it this way: if you’re undertaking a life/mindset journey, you’ll be wary of over-committing at the beginning, for rational reasons: everybody and their mom sets audacious New Years goals, and gyms are mostly empty by February 1. And you’ve probably let yourself down on a resolution-or-two.

So it makes sense to start small. Earn your own trust. Give yourself an early win.

Just a digression – there are so many different “gurus” offering seemingly different advice about this. Tim Ferriss touts the power of “unrealistic goals”: his classic example is you wouldn’t get out of bed for a free trip to Cleveland, but you might change some habits for a trip to the Greek Islands. This is true, like most adages, depending on the context.

How can “set realistic goals” and “set unrealistic goals” both be true? The same way “tighten the suspension on the right side” and “loosen the suspension on the right side” can both be true in a pit crew. (Can you tell I haven’t been following NASCAR very closely this year?) The direction you’re headed depends on where you start.

Anyway, start with realistic goals, because you want to make it easy to accomplish them. Not “finally lose those 50 pounds this year”. Instead, “go to the gym six times in January”. Treat yourself like a kid, until you’ve proven you can be trusted more like an adult, then treat yourself like an adult.

But back to the original takeaway: Think Big. At every stage, you’re recalibrating. That’s why reviewing past goals is important. You may discover, as I did, that you should have aimed higher.

That’s why I’ve found it’s been useful to be Slightly unrealistic. (Which differs from “lose those 50 pounds” in that’s grounded in a firm understanding of what’s “realistic”.) Think of it this way: when you accomplish a goal that requires a mindset shift, by definition, the world will look slightly different to you at the end of the process than at the beginning. My two favorite examples, both paraphrased from my memory:

“If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have told me they wanted a better horse-drawn carriage.”
-Henry Ford

“People don’t know what they want until you create it for them.”
-Steve Jobs

Old You is beginning the goal, and New You is completing it. But if you asked Old You from a year ago what was realistic, you’d probably find his answer narrower in scope than the answer Current You would give. That’s why you have to compensate for Old You’s provincialism by setting the bar slightly high.

Which brings us to resolution #1:

1) Make 15k per month by next year.

I just revised that up, then revised it down. Originally, I chose 8k, figuring that that would cover Chih-Yu’s escape from Juilliard. But then I realized if I’d asked Nate of one year ago what was realistic, he’d never have named the figure I’m currently making. (He wanted that amount, but he wouldn’t have allowed himself to believe it was realistic.)

Then I chose 20k. I revised it down because Current Nate doesn’t believe it sincerely enough to go after it. Deep down I’d assume it was so high as to be arbitrary, and it wouldn’t have the effect of pushing me to grow. I’d probably be running this script: “there’s no way I’ll hit that 20k, so I might as well just ‘do my best.'”

15k is scary.

It’s hard to conceive how I’d hit that. It would require rethinking some things. But after attending the BKK conference in October and seeing people just like me (but a little more experienced, and a little less in-their-own-way) blowing that figure away, I can’t say it’s unrealistic. It might push me to start a new business, or at the very least imagine the 15k/month incarnation of the Current business, which is scary. It forces me to confront questions like “what would I rather do: stay where it’s safe and require Chih-Yu to stay at her day job for another year?”

A quick digression about money goals:


Nate of 3 years ago would have found this obscene. “When is enough enough? What’s with these one-percenters always going after more money? Aren’t there other things in life more important than money? Why not make a goal to give away 15k instead of earn it? Or help 2 people a month?”

Ooh – that last one seems like a great goal, actually. And maybe the second-to-last for some years down the road. But as to the first 2, 3 Years Ago Nate had yet to make several mindset shifts:

  • Earning money is not zero-sum in the internet age. Anyone lucky enough to have the opportunities and education I’ve had could go out and do the same thing. It’s not for everybody, but not to do it is a choice.
  • Nobody owes you a living. If you’re lucky enough to be a winner of what Warren Buffet calls The DNA Lottery (born in the USA or another advanced economy in the First World, with a decent upbringing and education) and you still choose to accept only those opportunities given to you, you’re putting yourself at the mercy of somebody else’ whim to hire you/fire you/give you a promotion/pass you over for a promotion or raise/force you to work 80 hours/make you lick the corporate boot/etc. If, by contrast, you choose to go into business, you’re no longer getting a “guaranteed” paycheck or employer-provided health care. You’ve got a family, you’ve got parents, and now it’s on You, B. Given that the ceiling’s off your earning potential and you’re not taking anything from anybody else by earning a living, how much do You need to feel comfortable?

But it’s Not all about money. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Kevin Kelly, Derek Sivers… All of these guys have said it was never about the money for them. My assumption is there’s still some Old Nate mindset garbage holding me back. Here’s one script I uncovered that’s almost surely wrong:

  • It’s dog-eat-dog out there. If you get some paper, hang on for dear life.

I know that’s wrong, but I still hold onto it.

How crazy is that? It just goes to illustrate the difference between nominal and real mindset changes. You can say anything you want, but what do you believe? Anyway, it’s like the kid who’s intimidated by the bully. I’ve taken the somewhat controversial position that if you’re scared of the schoolyard bully (and in an ideal world where there are no concealed knives or guns) you should fight him. Why? In small part to make yourself a “hard target” and “not worth the trouble”, but mostly to prove to yourself that you’ve got it in you.

If you’re Holly Holm or Conor McGregor, however, with nothing to prove, maybe buy that bully a drink. The analogy? Jobs, were he still alive, Musk, Thiel, Kelly, and Sivers could lose their shirts tomorrow, and they wouldn’t go hungry. Why? They’ve got skills, networks, and the ability to live with fewer material things. But I’m still proving to myself abundance exists. I’ve still gotta fight that bully.


Still, set goals your Future Self would think are realistic. So, #2:

2) Help 2 people per month for no reward save the positive feeling of helping someone.

I think Future Nate knows that’s a big component to “success” anyway. How might I do it? Help people escape their jobs and get into business? Help musicians get some real mailing lists up? Volunteer? We’ll see.

One thing I did last year that wasn’t a moneymaker at all was nonetheless one of the most meaningful things I did, and it not only (hopefully) helped others, but forced me to grow.

3) Give at least 6 drum clinics in separate locations outside New York.

I can knock out 3 in one fell swoop in Asia, and I’m already doing one in LA this month. This goal will motivate me to find 2 more opportunities. Some people derive all their meaning from starting businesses. Others find some meaning in business and some meaning elsewhere, and I’m in this latter category, especially since one of my goals for 2015 was to automate my business to the point where my only job is to grow it. How do you avoid spending all your time on social media? Have things that give you meaning. Music is that thing for me, and the clinics are the best motivator to get better I’ve yet found.

Finally, #4:

4) Spend at least two months outside New York in 2016.

Future Nate will likely feel this is thinking small, but it requires Chih-Yu to be able to quit her job first. Location freedom is important, but I realize it’s another Bully Goal – something I have to prove to myself I can do, then I may not “need” it so much.

I have two young entrepreneur friends who LOVE New York. The shops on 5th Ave. The salarymen trooping though the rain to get home at 8pm. My relationship with New York is more guarded. My suspicion is that’s because my friends have never worked day jobs here. They’re Holly or Connor. They have nothing to prove. They’re 100% sure the joke’s not on them.

I want to have that kind of relationship with New York, and it starts by being here because I want to be, and not because I have to.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me through a long one. Who else has New Years goals? Leave a comment below this blog article, or, if you’re reading this on Facebook, below the post. Let’s revisit them next year and see how we did!


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